Rocky ’16: San Diego’s underdog in Iowa caucuses
17 Jan

Rocky ’16: San Diego’s underdog in Iowa caucuses

Jan. 17–A native San Diegan temporarily transplanted to the heartland, Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente Guerra loves Iowa.

He’s renting a swanky home for $4,000 a month: “The equivalent price in San Diego would be $15,000.”

Consider his commute: “There’s no traffic in Iowa.”

And his neighbors: “Very nice, everybody is gorgeous and everybody is well-educated.”

Still, there’s one problem: “It’s freezing.”

De La Fuente risks frostbite every time he steps outside –and every time he encounters Democratic Party leaders. When it comes to winning Feb. 2’s Iowa presidential caucuses, experts figure a snowball has a greater chance than this Southern California car dealer and developer.

Yet De La Fuente insists he’s an attractive alternative to voters worried by the ethical clouds shadowing Hillary Clinton, the former first lady, senator and secretary of state, and leery of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ European-light socialism. Moreover, the San Diegan has succeeded in getting his name on many Democratic primary ballots.

Unswayed, party officials give him the frosty shoulder. They don’t return his calls. They freeze him out of debates.

“This whole thing is a chess game, three dimensions, 10 stories high,” De La Fuente said, “done with rules created by people for one reason and one reason only — so nobody can qualify.”

That doesn’t stop a mob of political dreamers from trying. As of last week, the Federal Election Commission had heard from 1,489 presidential hopefuls. Nine of these dark horses are stabled in San Diego County, including a disabled Army veteran from Escondido urging a new era of bipartisan cooperation; a former homeless nurse from San Diego, aiming to short-circuit the forces of nature; and an Oceanside gemologist devoted to our first president.

“I am going to ask the American people to send me a $1 George Washington bill,” said Oceanside’s Matthew D. Pinnavaia, 57, founder and standard-bearer of the George Washington Political Party. “If I can raise $1 from even 25 or 30 million dissatisfied Americans, that should be enough.”

Winning the White House is a costly and complex enterprise, requiring coast-to-coast stumping, TV ads, consultants, pollsters, phone banks, press secretaries, speechwriters, advisers. It also means mastering the arcane rules that, state by state, determine if your name appears on the ballot.

“It’s an absolute mish-mosh of rules,” said Casey Dominguez, an assistant professor of political science at the University of San Diego, “a crazy quilt of rules.”

The odds of De La Fuente, Pinnavaia or any other local triumphing are worse than their chances of winning the next Powerball. In Iowa and New Hampshire, where a primary will be held Feb. 9, these candidates aren’t even blips on pollsters’ screens.

Yet De La Fuente has qualified for primaries in more locations than former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. As of this week, De La Fuente’s is cleared to appear on ballots in 23 states and American Samoa. When Americans living abroad receive their primary ballots, De La Fuente will be listed.

He even became the first candidate ever to qualify for the Michigan primary without party support. Instead, he won a spot on the March 8 ballot by submitting petitions signed by 20,000-plus registered voters.

“This little guy,” De La Fuente said, “is making history!”

Chilled in Iowa

Imagine a strange, distant land where a political rookie from San Diego just might win a major party’s presidential nomination.

That land? It’s called “Ohio.”

In Ohio’s March 15 Democratic primary, only three candidates will be on the ballot: Clinton, Sanders and De La Fuente. O’Malley failed to qualify.

“Hillary is going to get 20 percent of Ohio, Sanders gets 20 percent and let’s say — for the sake of conversation — I get 20 percent,” De La Fuente said. “That leaves 40 percent that wants anybody but Hillary and anybody but Sanders.

“Who are they going to turn to? Me.”

If so, it will be a case of beginner’s luck. De La Fuente has never held public office, although he has chased numerous governmental officials through the legal system. In the 1990s, he complained that his property in Otay Mesa had been damaged when the city of San Diego allowed southbound trucks to park there while waiting to enter Mexico.

A legal epic ensued, finally ending Nov. 17. Insurance companies agreed to pay the city $8.2 million and De La Fuente $25 million.

“I fought the city and the county and the city of El Cajon and anyone who got in my way,” he said, “not because I am a fighter but because I am against bullies.”

He has plenty to fight against in Des Moines, the site of last Monday’s Brown and Black Forum. Clinton, Sanders and O’Malley were on stage, discussing issues of importance to minorities. De La Fuente was in the audience, listening and occasionally buttonholing party officials and TV anchor Jorge Ramos, one of the forum’s moderators.

“Is Iowa’s Brown and Black Forum for whites only?” De La Fuente asked. “I’m the only brown candidate in this race.”

Traditionally, the two major parties ignore candidates who fall below a minimal polling threshold. Even someone who wins a third party’s nomination faces long odds against appearing on the general election ballot. To do so, they need to represent a party that won at least 2 percent of the vote in the most recent gubernatorial election or collect thousands of signatures in every state.

That’s a high hurdle for Alan Spears, who is seeking the American Independent Party nomination. A lawyer who is moving from San Diego to Lake Arrowhead, Spears has discussed his views one-on-one — he calls for Obama’s impeachment, citing Benghazi, and would wage war on Islamic terrorists. But he’s scheduled no rallies or speeches.

What are his chances in the election?

“None,” he said, “none. But I think some of this ideology needs to be vocalized, needs to be expressed. Everything can’t be conducted as business as usual any more.”

Life’s full joy

Hundreds of presidential candidates run for hundreds of reasons. For some, it’s a joke. At the FEC, committees have been established for Anakin Skywalker, Tronald Dump and Buffy Ann Summers, the vampire slayer of TV and movie fame, now a socialist inhabiting the fictitious address of 666 Hellmouth Lane, Sunnyvale.

One “candidate” from San Diego is a hoax. Papers were filed on behalf of a raunchy pseudonym, using the Murphy Canyon address of an unsuspecting family living in military housing.

Most, though, are real people with real concerns. Working in the Detroit area in the 1980s, Larry Duncan saw auto industry jobs shipped abroad. Later, he volunteered for the Army and served in Afghanistan with the 101st “Screaming Eagles.” In 2008 an IED explosion left him with injuries to his brain and spine.

“It’s a work in progress type thing,” said Duncan, now 46 and living in Escondido. “I just take things a little bit slower.”

He’s raided his savings for his campaign, splurging on a driving trip across Iowa last fall. He’s also printed bumper stickers and cards, the latter describing him as a “Middle Class American for All Americans.” The cards list several pledges: “Fix Our Dysfunctional Government,” “Obama Care Reform,” “Veterans Affairs Reform,” “Secure Our Borders.”

To achieve the latter, he’d build a wall across our entire border. North as well as south?

“Absolutely.” Leaving the U.S.-Canada border open, he added, would invite trouble.

Doris Cintron, 64, would focus on protecting citizens from natural disasters within our borders. “I have a plan to stop hurricanes,” said Cintron, a former nurse who was homeless before finding an apartment in Father Joe’s Villages in 2007. “I believe the San Andreas fault can be dealt with, too. I’m not afraid to fight Mother Nature.”

Born in Puerto Rico, Cintron was a a little girl when a charismatic presidential candidate who swept through her Bronx neighborhood.

“I gotta tell you, he was mighty fine,” she said of John F. Kennedy. “He was handsome, he was young.”

Kennedy challenged the nation to put a man on the moon. Cintron would challenge her fellow Americans to conquer nature and boost the human spirit: “Never in all our days have we felt the full joy of living in this world or in the United States. Who can bring that joy of living back?”

Who, indeed? For some, this zest is found in the very act of running for president.

“This is like a beautiful chess game,” De La Fuente said. “I have never done anything so exciting in my life.”

Fresh ideas

It’s unclear how much De La Fuente will spend on this quest. His most recent FEC statement, dated Oct. 1, listed no fundraisers and no expenses.

The form also doesn’t mention the man who inspired De La Fuente’s campaign: Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner.

“I thought he was a business person, I thought he was smart,” De La Fuente said. “After I saw him speak, he basically insulted every man, woman and child… He’s going to get us, if he gets elected, into World War III and World War IV.”

Once a self-described “conservative Democrat,” De La Fuente now calls himself a “responsible Democrat.” He favors abortion rights and same-sex marriage; is open to “any and all options” to defeat terrorists, but warns against another Vietnam; and advocates a 12 percent flat tax, limiting all deductions to 2 percent of income.

His immigration policy is decidedly unTrumpian. “I happen to be the only candidate who believes these 11 million people are not liabilities. I believe they are assets.”

Employ these undocumented immigrants, he said, and make them pay taxes.

If election season is a time to air fresh ideas, De La Fuente has a few.

So does…

? ? Spring Valley’s Anthony Ciotti III, an independent candidate and self-described “long-haired metalhead” who would scrap capitalism for a system focused on the sustainable use of resources. “We really need to switch our economic model.”

His campaign events? Saturday “walk-and-talk” sessions on the Mission Beach boardwalk, leaving Hamel’s around 9:30 a.m.

? ? Pinnavaia, the gemologist. “I have the philosophy of George Washington, we should trade with all nations and have alliances with none… I think most American citizens would rather follow George Washington than any of the current candidates.”

? Cintron, the former nurse. “Volcanoes? I feel I have a plan for that. A very good plan. You want to freeze the top of the lava…”

? ? Spears, the lawyer. “The American public would be well served to not vote for anyone who is now in Congress.”

? Duncan, the wounded warrior. “Democrats seem to work just with Democrats and Republicans only with Republicans. We need someone at the top who is neither, who is able to bring both together.”

There’s no shortage of candidates, no lack of ideas. Even if none have a realistic chance of gaining the White House, they may triumph in other ways.

“People,” said USD’s Dominguez, “really feel that expressing their views is an end in itself.”

peter.rowe@sduniontribune.com

(619) 293-1227

Twitter: @peterroweut

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